Renewables need recycling, too


Renewable energy installations may help the planet by indirectly reducing carbon emissions, but they generate their own waste too.

Renewable installations have a certain life cycle, about 25-30 years, and a report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) says waste from discarded wind turbines, solar panels and batteries could increase at a very rapid pace over the next decade.

Specifically, the report estimates that solar panel waste will increase 3,000% in the decade to 2030, to 1.5 million tons per year, battery waste about 500% to 240,000 tons per year and discarded wind turbines to 4.75 million tons.

If this problem is not tackled immediately, we could see landfills full of such material, much like today’s waste landfills. These devices also contain dangerous substances that should not be allowed to leak into the environment. Moreover, they are not easily recycled, nor were they designed to be. The materials used are complex and the valuable ones difficult to extract.

In Greece, the companies that install renewable systems are not obliged to pay for their recycling, like companies in other sectors are. The only recycling system implemented concerns solar panels, but those were massively installed from 2007, so recycling will be an issue after 2030. By contrast, no recycling system exists for wind turbines, which are generally older.